Hurdles star Liu says young Chinese are not fighting fit

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 March, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 March, 2010, 12:00am

Liu Xiang is, with basketball star Yao Ming , one of the top stars in Chinese sports, so when he raises a concern about the mainland's physical weakness at grass-roots level, people pay attention.

Liu, the 110 metres Olympic hurdles gold medalist in 2004, said in a group discussion during the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in Beijing yesterday that he was worried about the fitness of his compatriots, especially the younger generation.

'Our kids are gaining weight but losing strength. Many of them are the only child of the family. To get them to do some exercise is very difficult,' Liu, 26, said. 'My younger relatives are an example. Their interest is in browsing websites and chatting online. They prefer fast food and video games to exercise.

'Our kids are the future of our nation. If their physical condition goes down, our country will go down with them.'

Liu's opinion was widely echoed by other delegates. Although China won the most gold medals (51) in the Beijing Olympics in 2008, sport had largely remained a government business, they said. Most resources go to grooming elite athletes while most people - especially in rural and less developed regions - have almost no access to the most basic facilities.

Jiang Xiaoyu , former executive vice-president of the Beijing Olympics organising committee, said the physical fitness of young Chinese people was inferior to those in Western countries and among the weakest in Asia.

'We studied the physical attributes of primary and middle-school students in China and Japan from 1995 to 2005,' Jiang said.

'We measured their height, weight and the quantity of red blood cells. We also looked at their flexibility, explosive force and muscle strength.

'Except for female students aged 14 to 17, who tended to grow taller than their Japanese counterparts, our students are no match in all categories. The Japanese can simply endure more stress, pump more oxygen into their lungs and run longer and faster.'

Yang Hua , president of Beijing Sport University, said even though the central government had stressed the importance of physical fitness for citizens, local government officials were not investing in basic sport and exercise facilities.

'I visited some schools in small and medium-sized cities. I was shocked by what I saw. A school of a few thousand students was living without a sports facility,' Yang said.

'I am afraid that the physical strength of our young people is at the bottom of all countries. If a war breaks out between China and Japan, we will need three soldiers to take out just one of them.'